Wednesday, July 13, 2011

California's own Great Leap Forward?

Beware renewable energy sprawl.

In order for California to meet its mandated goal of generating one-third of its electricity from renewable resources, predominately wind turbines and solar panels, quite a bit of land and natural resources are going to be required in order to achieve that.

California's peak usage is 52,000 megawatts, so one-third of that is 17,000 MW. Let's assume for the sake of simplicity that wind and solar will split production of that 17,000 MW 50/50.

On the solar side, producing 8,500 MW of electricity will require 129 square miles of solar farms, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan. Good thing we've got such a big state, huh? We can park these farms out in the middle of nowhere (which is another problem in of itself which we will address later). Unfortunately, nowhere, like the Ivanpah farm out in the Eastern Mojave had its construction shut down out of concern for the federally-protected desert tortoise.

Wind energy is even worse: in order to produce that 8,500 MW, you would need the equivalent of 70 Manhattans, again, out in the middle of nowhere with the incumbent transmission (loss) problems. Also, wind turbines require about 200 tons of steel each, the production of which has its own sizeable carbon footprint. Contrast that with a natural gas turbine which weighs about 9 tons and there is a 200-1 difference in the the MW generated per ton of steel between the gas turbine and the wind turbine.

And all this time, we thought the green mantra was: Small is beautiful.

Then again, this may all prove to be a moot point since China sits on most of the rare earths required for wind and solar technology and we're supposed to run out of lithium by 2050 anyway.

When thinking of our head-long rush into green energy, we are reminded of China's Great Leap Forward and their head-long rush to become an industrial power. Starting in 1958, 90 million rural peasants were submitted to "backyard steel mills" but with no iron ore or pig iron to throw into their crude smelts, they instead grabbed anything they could; shovels, hoes, picks, axes, pipes, crow bars, wagon hubs and even their own small tractors... any and all iron on the farm. After all, their were mandates and quotas to be met! Suffice to say, the steel produced was virtually useless. And besides worthless steel, what did the central planners of the Chinese communist party have to show for it? Depending upon who you are listening to, between 20 and 30 million dead Chinese.

We're in the best of hands.


Harrison said...

Don't forget all the birds that will be chopped up by the windmills of the gods.

K T Cat said...

Slight correction: you forgot the "million" in this phrase - between 20 and 30 dead Chinese.

K T Cat said...

Unfortunately, nowhere, like the Ivanpah farm out in the Eastern Mojave had its construction shut down out of concern for the federally-protected desert tortoise.

Are you kidding? A wind farm was shut down because of a tortoise? What, do the things fly now?

Dean said...

KT, corrected. Thanks. With glorious statist utopian plans, sometimes we lose sight of the actual numbers.

Anonymous said...

China doesn't sit on most rare earth metals, they are just the most willing to extract them. It turns out 'rare' earths aren't really rare, just difficult to extract, especially without fouling the local terrain. There are other resources across the world, even in the US, it's just that most countries don't want the environmental concerns.

And the fifty year supply of Lithium is if 500 million electric cars get built, and if you read the study that projects that, they also project that alternate materials will be in use by that time. And the projection was prior to the Japanese discovering huge deposits of rare earths on the sea floor, expectations are that mining might happen within 20 years.

SarahB said...

No, wait, wait...Japan just found a ton of rare the ocean mud of international waters just off Hawaii and Tahiti. All they need to do is "simple acid leaching" on location. Cause "green" car batteries are WAY more important than pristine tropical sea life.

Dean said...

Anon, thanks for chiming in. For the sake of argument, let's say your lithium figures are correct. Do you know what else we have a boatload of and do you know what else we keep finding in great and vast quantities?: oil and natural gas.

But as you are aware, the people sitting at the levers of power in the country have a near pathological didain for drilling and mining.

So rare earths will continue to be rare as we let China with their abhorrent environmental record extract the stuff for us to put in our windmills and solar panels.

And we'll give Brazil a $50 billion loan guarantee to drill for oil down there off the coast.

There's a very high NIMBY factor in today's green movement, wouldn't you say?

Sarah, can we count on some green on green violence?

SarahB said...

I just hope there is a reality show to follow the G-on-G warfare. Just imagine the Las Vegas odds on which celebs will line up for either team. Popcorn, please!

Anonymous said...

"There's a very high NIMBY factor in today's green movement, wouldn't you say?"

Oh yeah, Ted Kennedy made a lot of noise trying to block wind farms where he liked to sail his yacht. I think 'green energy' has wildly over-promised and under-delivered, but you overstate your case. And it's very likely that costs will go up if there are requirements to mine this stuff and minimize the damage, but let's not pretend there aren't huge ecological risks with fracking and deep sea drilling either, and the other thing about rare earths is, unlike oil and gas, they are technically recyclable.

Right now I like the algae in the desert efforts, whether it can pan out on a large scale remains to be seen.